Does Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity Suggest That There Is an Afterlife?: A Theoretical Physicist Explains

“Let’s talk about the physics of dead grandmothers.” Thus does theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder start off the Big Think video above, which soon gets into Einstein’s theory of special relativity. The question of how Hossenfelder manages to connect the former to the latter should raise in anyone curiosity enough to give these ten minutes a watch, but she also addresses a certain common category of misconception. It all began, she says, when a young man posed to her the following question: “A shaman told me that my grandmother is still alive because of quantum mechanics. Is this right?”

Upon reflection, Hossenfelder arrived at the conclusion that “it’s not entirely wrong.” For decades now, “quantum mechanics” has been hauled out over and over again to provide vague support to a range of beliefs all along the spectrum of plausibility. But in the dead-grandmother case, at least, it’s not the applicable area of physics. “It’s actually got something to do with Einstein’s theory of special relativity,” she says. With that particular achievement, Einstein changed the way we think about space and time, proving that “everything that you experience, everything that you see, you see as it was a tiny, little amount of time in the past. So how do you know that anything exists right now?”

In Einstein’s description of physical reality, “there is no unambiguous notion to define what happens now; it depends on the observer.” And “if you follow this logic to its conclusion, then the outcome is that every moment could be now for someone. And that includes all moments in your past, and it also includes all moments in your future.” Einstein posits space and time as not two separate concepts, but aspects of a single entity called spacetime, in which “the present moment has no fundamental significance”; in the resulting “block universe,” past, present, and future coexist simultaneously, and no information is ever destroyed, just continually rearranged.

“So if someone you knew dies, then, of course, we all know that you can no longer communicate with this person. That’s because the information that made up their personality disperses into very subtle correlations in the remains of their body, which become entangled with all the particles around them, and slowly, slowly, they spread into radiation that disperses throughout the solar system, and eventually, throughout the entire universe.” But one day could bring “some cosmic consciousnesses which will also be spread out, and this information will be accessible again” — in about a billion years, anyway, which will at least give grandma’s reassembled intelligence plenty to catch up on.

Related content:

Is There Life After Death?: Michio Kaku, Bill Nye, Sam Harris & More Explore One of Life’s Biggest Questions

Elie Wiesel (RIP) Talks About What Happens When We Die

Is There an Afterlife? Christopher Hitchens Speculates in an Animated Video

Einstein’s Theory of Relativity Explained in One of the Earliest Science Films Ever Made (1923)

Is There Life After Death?: John Cleese and a Panel of Scientists Discuss That Eternal Question

Albert Einstein On God: “Nothing More Than the Expression and Product of Human Weakness”

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

by | Permalink | Comments (25) |

Support Open Culture

We’re hoping to rely on our loyal readers rather than erratic ads. To support Open Culture’s educational mission, please consider making a donation. We accept PayPal, Venmo (@openculture), Patreon and Crypto! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (25)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Gene says:

    I read half of this story and said this is all BS and started laughing

  • Jay says:

    Part 2 should discuss what Bernardo Kastrup’s proposal claims happens after ones remains have scattered back into the universe. It’s a natural place to go given Sabine’s mention of a hypothetical cosmic consciousness.

  • M Khan says:

    Google ” The Physics of the Day of Judgment “

  • Rodney Kawecki says:

    Does Einsteins theory reflect an after life is not illustrated beyond the past or the future. But Rodney Kawecki has reviewed Hubble Expansion or what he defines as Space Expansion and that energy which refers to Recarnation theory. It resolves the beginning of the universe referring to the big bang and a sad end which refers to recreation or universe rebirth. Kawecki’s idea consurd as it may seem is bound by the material fact that matter can not escape space. Where as a result matter can change into energy and energy back into matter which refers to an infinite imaginary but finite rebirth cycle.
    Furthermore, called ” The Quanta Physics Theory” developed since 1995, Kawecki redefines the continuity of space in 3D scale universe where galactic planetary mass is caught in 3D timespace. That positive planetary matter mass resistance in deep equilibrium that reaches 4D timespace to be expanse and distance also based on Hubble Space.

  • Ck says:

    Mumbo jumbo

  • Name says:

    Why discount what you don’t understand?

  • S. Sadullah says:

    It is all not mumbo jumbo. The extent and properties of space, the character and nature of time, the interweaving of space time are all extremely difficult concepts to fully and truly comprehend, and so are brushed away as nonsense….but they are not so. The nature of information, entanglement, superposition etc are all mathematical operators that exist throughout all space time and their combined actions create a con joint phenomena of information permeance…past, present and future.
    Do not dismiss what you do not understand, and only accept what you do.

  • John Joe says:

    The ‘you do not understand’ is the ‘Fallback Position’for idiots who will believe in anything.Einstein was an Ape like the rest of us, who created as much damage with his Scientific ravings, as he did good.He was born,lived and died like everyone and will stay dead! So let human beings get over themselves and their Egoes.Get on with it!

  • Geo Golden2 says:

    Einstein stated,”Time and space are modes in which we think and not conditions in which we live.”
    Why aren’t you understanding this?
    Because of “The Fall”,we find ourselves in an organic situation, due to dimensional changes. Even Christians for the most part,don’t understand this.
    Eternity, or the timeless is the greater reality and truth. Lea ing us in the situation of, “The Matrix”.

  • Greg Z says:

    The explanation for the train alaogy she gives here isn’t valid as the point where she says ‘your friend is looking straight ahead to see you’. There is no longer or shorter distance, there is only the distance. If the explanation doesn’t hold true for any portion,, then it doesn’t hold true for the rest of the explanation.

  • deralaand says:

    Have you viewed this site in chrome on an Android device? Every 45 seconds the page jumps a bit because an ad is either loading or reloading. This is more annoying than just having ads in your face all the time.

  • Patti B says:

    Of course I do believe there’s life after death. If not in reincarnation, then somewhere else out there is as humans don’t know as yet. After all, we’re souls having human experience 😊

  • Charles ward says:

    Lol I can’t believe you people. The universe isn’t that complicated. I can tell your what a proton is, how it’s created and why it has spin. I can explain away the double slit and spooky action at a distance conundrums. Why the birth of the universe exceeded the speed of light, what an electron is and where it goes and what a field is and how magnetism is and how it really works and I’m not even a physicist. I can tell you why the universe is expanding as well and how something appears to come from nothing. Big clue “Particals don’t exist.”
    Meanwhile you people are still mentally masterbating yourselves with made up fantasies. Looking for a unified theory for a universe that doesn’t exist. No one has never proved Particals exist. The fact is the truth is not allowed by the same people that are currently destroying America to usher in their globalism.

  • Harris says:

    space time is single dimension start to end. We are at the very thin of time exists even just say thousands of years is equal to the very little amount of space time

  • Jeff says:

    I still can’t wrap my head around why time is included in physics. Time is relative, but it still passes. From the big bang to now we count time as WE measure it,in light years or hours. I obviously don’t know the math, but in my practical mind that’s how I see it. Someone please try to figure this out without time.

  • greg Pantos says:

    Life is never-ending
    To die on earth is physical
    Our conscience is in the quantum state.

  • Annoying says:

    Perception of this information is very narrow. The information we gather is mostly at schools. They don’t teach exactly what Einstein said. Especially if it was researched and put into the syllabus. Therefore understanding of what he means is 0. And you won’t understand, unless you study specifically what he said and get why he said it. Special relativity has been encouraging people without believe in time. Time works differently for others individually. When his experiments were put to tests, they didn’t show full trust. Some may believe, he was using his terminology to mask his failure during tests. Some may believe, because he worked in the patent company, he stole these ideas. And some may believe he was a greatest mind of all times, but who would he be without galileo or Newton. I have just one thing to say, if there was no day and night cycle, what time you will go to sleep?

  • Matt says:

    Charles Ward please stop your nonsense blabbering. Your a genius in your own mind. So you have all the answers do you. lol. You know the answers to questions the greatest minds in history can’t answer. Typical egotistical narcissist. Listen I don’t know if death is the end and neither does anyone else. People have opinions and beliefs but they don’t know. We die and afterward no one knows for sure and if somehow consciousness does go on after this life it likely does so in a manner where it does not remember anything before so therefore the answers likely remain unanswered for eternity. Truth is you don’t know so stop lying.

  • Paul Helleberg says:

    I have had many “gut feelings” of future experiences that DID later happen.. but, one time I actually had a video of future events flash in front of my eyes! Then 5 hours later I saw again and experienced exactly what I had seen earlier in the evening .. my mother said “our life is like a c d and sometimes they skip and we get a glimpse of the future.” Which means time is what..??

  • Robert says:

    There are models which suggest that time should not be wrapped together with space in this way. The model suggests that space burst out of time, which was already taking place

  • Josh says:

    Special relativity describes objects at relativistic speeds. You are an observer and cannot be viewed as a event, your end is the end. No afterlife, just an uncaring and abysmal universe that we call home.

  • Dusti says:

    John Joe is a beer swilling loser who hasn’t done in his life what Einstein would do over lunch.

  • Jamal Hogchild says:

    Yeah, and the election was stolen too!!!!

  • Lucas says:

    You are wrong in many ways.

  • Tracy Bogdan says:

    I’m only going to say that the particles are
    residual material from a passing

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.